TAMPA — On the day they first began preparing for their season opener against the Falcons this past September, Peyton Barber, Mike James and Russell Hansbrough weren’t even on the Buccaneers’ active roster.
On Monday, the day they began preparing for the first game of the second half of their season, Barber, James and Hansbrough were the only running backs even practicing for the Buccaneers.
But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. After all, it’s starting to look like the Bucs may have to lean on that trio to lead their ground attack against the Bears on Sunday, so the extra practice reps may come in handy.
Three days after Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said he was “hopeful” two-time Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin would be back in the lineup against the Bears, Martin couldn’t even make it back to practice. Not as a participant, at least.
Martin was not on the field for the 30-minute portion of practice the media was allowed to watch and while he was seen walking off the field afterward, he was not dressed like any other participant.
He was wearing a soft red bucket hat, not a helmet like everyone else, and he wasn’t wearing the soft spider shoulder pads the team wore, which is yet another sign he didn’t participate in the workout. Now, it’s still possible Martin could return to practice on Wednesday, but if he can’t make it onto the field for a light walkthrough on Monday it seems unlikely he’ll be playing on Sunday.
The same can probably be said of Jacquizz Rodgers. Now nearly two weeks removed from a left foot sprain he suffered in the Bucs’ Oct. 30 loss to the Raiders, Rodgers said he’s “getting better’’ but he was still walking around with a protective boot on the foot on Monday.
That may force the Buccaneers to once again lean on Barber, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Auburn who carried the ball 11 times for 31 yards against the Falcons last week, as their starter.
It has already forced the Bucs to promote Hansbrough, another undrafted rookie free agent, from the practice squad to the active roster and it may force them to use Hansbrough in ways he’s not accustomed. Hansbrough was used mostly as a third-down back and largely as a pass catcher during the preseason, but Koetter says the Bucs can’t afford to specialize at the position anymore.
“With the luck we’ve been having with running backs, the guys that are up have to be ready to do everything,’’ said Koetter, who has started four different players at the position and placed seven on the roster this year.
“I mean, we just don’t know how it’s going to fall. It’s been a crazy year in that respect, so all three of those guys and whoever comes back or doesn’t come back, if they’re up they have to be able to do it all.’’
James, who was re-signed a week ago after being waived injured in Week 1, might not be ready to do it all, but he is ready for a bigger role this week than he had last week, Koetter said. James ran the ball once for three yards and caught three passes for 17 more in his first game back last week, but the Buccaneers believe he’s caught up mentally enough to take on more responsibility this week.
“Mike’s a sharp guy,’’ Koetter said. “He did a good job getting himself ready to go last week, so I don’t see any reason why he can’t be ready to go on everything this week.’’
Barber and Hansbrough will, of course, have to be ready to go on everything as well, and Koetter said he’s confident that despite their lack of experience, they’re ready for an expanded workload.
“If you’re a rookie in the NFL, by the halfway point of the season you would expect to see improvement and we have seen that in those guys,’’ Koetter said of Barber and Hansbrough. “Our young guys are continuing to get better.
“And like I said, you would expect that from all your rookies and I think we have some other guys that are making improvement. I can see it (in practice) and some of those guys haven’t had their opportunity yet but that day may be coming down the road.’’